Photo and Story Courtesy of Arkansas Newswire
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of spotlights on students who study or studied online at the University of Arkansas. The stories are running during National Distance Learning Week, Nov. 9-13.
Andrew Hill, an engineer from Jonesboro, wanted a deeper knowledge of engineering, especially thermodynamics and heat transfer, but he had a tough time finding the right master’s degree program.
He found it while exploring the website of the college where his daughter attended. His daughter’s enrollment on the University of Arkansas campus in 2010 led to his online enrollment.
“When (Courtney) started college, I wanted to stay in touch with what she was doing,” he said. “I was looking at the (College of Engineering) website, and I saw the online program with deeper courses in thermodynamics and heat transfer. I said this is what I’ve been looking for.”
Hill, now a senior design engineer with Caterpillar Inc., graduated with his Master of Science in Engineering degree in May 2015, one year after his daughter, Courtney Hill, earned her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the U of A.
“This was the first program I was able to continue my education in the direction I wanted to go,” Hill said of the online program.
Andrew Hill’s home location and work schedule barred him from coming to Fayetteville to attend classes.
“Usually engineers work all kinds of odd hours,” Hill said. “Sometimes it’s a regular day, and sometimes it’s a 15-hour day.”
And his work is not always in Jonesboro.
“I’m always on the road between home and Illinois,” he said.
That is why access to an online program was so important to him, he said. It provided the flexibility he needed to work while advancing his education.
“Some things are made possible through technology,” Hill said. “There’s nothing that can replace the classroom, but this (online program) came about as close as you will ever get.”
Hill watched recorded lectures and completed assignments online, he said. He also met weekly with faculty through Blackboard Collaborate, an online interactive tool that lets participants see and hear each other through streaming video.
“The dedication the instructors showed, I’ve never had anything like that,” Hill said. “They made me feel right at home.”
Just before he completed the program, Hill advanced in his career from design engineer to senior design engineer, he said.
“A lot of the things I learned allowed me to be promoted,” Hill said.
But that’s not why he went back to college.
“What is important to me is increasing my knowledge in a way to have new ideas while I’m learning,” Hill said. “I knew I wanted to go as deep as I could into thermal systems design. After a few classes, there was no way I was going to quit. I was learning too much.
“All I had to do was work hard, and that’s something I know how to do,” Hill said. “It was challenging, but it was challenging in a way that I saw myself finishing what I’d started,”
The cost of the program was reasonable, he said.
“You can’t get a better deal for a distance class,” Hill said.
A bonus to going back to school in his late 40s, Hill said, is he appreciated the knowledge he was absorbing.
“Young folks want to rush things,” Hill said. “I savored every class. To me it’s valuable knowledge. I felt like I had climbed a ladder of knowledge.”
Hill is now enrolled in an engineering doctoral program offered online by an institution in another state. That program, however, sometimes asks him to give presentations during work hours and is not quite as well adjusted to fit a working man’s schedule. The U of A does not offer an online doctoral program in engineering.
“I’m in a program right now that magnifies to me how much the U of A knew what they were doing with their online program,” Hill said. “I wish (the U of A) were offering the next higher level. I would be taking that. I don’t have anything but good things to say about the U of A.”